By, Michael Hoyt, Ph.D. & Michele Ritterman, Ph.D.
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
During the December 2011 International Congress, we took a taxi to visit the Erickson home and on our way had a conversation with our driver. At first, it was pleasant chitchat, but then we engaged on a deeper level and asked the driver how he came to live in Phoenix. He told us about his unhappy divorce–how several years earlier his wife, who he thought was the love of his life, had abandoned him in order to take a job in another state. When he admitted he felt “puzzled and sucker-punched” the atmosphere in the taxi became tense and quiet.
Michele asked the driver if he knew who Lenny Bruce was. He did not. She then told a story in which a waiter in a Chinese restaurant who had served Lenny and his girlfriend for years asked Lenny one night, “Where’s momma?” And the waiter also raved about her. When Lenny replied that she had left him, the waiter said, “Oh, well, you’re better off without her.” Our driver chuckled a bit but said he was still grieving his loss.
As we were driving, we saw Squaw Peak Mountain in the distance. Michele asked our driver if he had ever climbed the mountain and he said, “No.” Sensing he would never do it on his own initiative, she recommended he climb just for the view–an idea he strongly rejected. (In brief therapy, always offer an initial suggestion that can be rejected.)
As we were getting closer to the freeway exit Michelle took advantage of the moment and asked, “Have you heard the one about the taxi driver?”
“No,” our driver predictably answered.
“Well,” she continued, “he was driving along when a cop pulled him over. The taxi driver begged the cop, ‘Please don’t give me a ticket,’ and the cop said, ‘I’ll tell you what, if you can tell me a good story, I’ll let you go.’”
“The taxi driver replied, ‘My wife ran off with a cop. When I saw you, I got scared you were him and you were bringing her back!’”
Now our driver laughed wholeheartedly. The rejection he had felt from his wife switched to his relief. Despite the pain over losing her, he realized that he might not even want her back.
When we got to the Erickson home and Michael was paying the fare, the driver said, “I’m going to remember that story,” and laughed again. Michael smiled and gave him a $10 tip to remember us and the joke.
As Dr. Erickson so wisely taught us, context and sequence are important for a brief intervention to have a maximal chance to take hold.
After a session of brief therapy in a taxi, we visited the Erickson home, and it was lovely.